NASA: From the perspective of an engineer..

This is taken from a slashdot posting, here:

I felt this comment was very interesting, and says alot about how people who are making decisions that really should not be, because of politial, and cost pressures. I have always hated those “golf course deals”. Make the deals in the engineering department, not the golf course, or finance department.

Here is the text of the comment:

“Freedom was foreseen as primarily a US venture for launch and support, as already indicated. Ascent from French Guiana was possible (they were our friends, right?) without too much trouble in a 28.5 deg inclined orbit, but it took a fair bit of delta-V to get from Baikanor to 28.5 deg. Of course, that wasn’t our problem as the Soviets were on the other side.

OK, international politics aside.

One of the real problems we saw was the US Congress, and yes, NASA management.Space Station Freedom was often a dumping ground for “retired in place” senior engineering management waiting for that magic day when they could sit at home and impede their wives instead of coming to the office and impeding engineers. That’s not to say we didn’t have decent, enthusiastic, qualified management but they were outnumbered… or simply out-numbed… by the incompetents.

A lot was preordained, despite engineering advances. “Don’t try to convince me, my mind is made up.” I could go on at length about the decision to scrap the 100 khz power distribution system on Freedom in favor of the DC system. I was around when the “test” destroyed some computer hardware at MSFC that was used as justification, despite the fact that the test was protested by competent engineers with a knowledge of VAX power supply design. Were there problems with the high frequency AC distribution? Some, but not insurmountable.

SSF was also a training ground for kids right out of college. Get them in, turn ’em loose with little guidance, slap ’em around a bit until they started doing good design, then move them to Shuttle.

We had a lot of design by Aerospace Conglomerate, too. Let’s get that design that Lockheed wants, because it’ll make them easier to deal with at contract time. Let’s use THIS design that MD wants, even if it’s not what NASA wants/requires, because we think their design is going to make them do something else for us on another project.

Still, and all, most of the conglomerate designs I saw, worked with, and helped shape (and, yes, I worked for a contractor company, too, but I was doing specs and requirements, as well as working with the prototyping) would have been acceptable, even if somewhat limiting in their own ways.

The BIG problem, however, was Congress. Every three years or so, we’d get a “stop what you’re doing, reassess the design, and then start over” command from the Hill. I’ve gotta say, we wasted a LOT of money on those exercises, and we wasted a LOT of time.

There are improvements borne of waiting time and engineering advances in ISS that would not have been, and may never have reached SSF or Alpha, but we could well have bent metal and flown hardware by 1990 if Congress had stuck to original budgets and timelines and stayed the hell out of the way. I flew prototype hardware in 1992 that was the first piece of Space Station hardware to fly, be proven and certified for on-orbit Space Station operation. I could have flown it 3 years earlier save the Challenger accident.

Final thought. We developed or promoted a lot of stuff that’s now common place in the world. Speaking from the perspective of medical hardware development (I also did a bit for the medical facility in terms of GNCC and COMMS) there’s a lot of stuff I see in hospitals, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices and ambulances that makes me smile and think, “I worked with the prototype of that…”, or, in a couple of cases, “I wrote the SBIR paperwork that made that happen”.

So, yes, NASA’s efforts HAVE improved life ont he planet. Really.”

Seems to say a lot, doesn’t it?

Leave a Reply